Sunday

27th May 2018

Migration routes change, migrants' security does not

  • Lampedusa - the small island off the Italian coast is often the first EU territory reached by migrants from Africa (Photo: Valentina Pop)

It could have been just another attempted leap. But on 6 February, Desirée, a young Cameroonian, managed to cross the border and enter in Spain.

According to what she told Spanish news outlet El Confidencial, it was her fourth attempt to jump the fence at Ceuta, at the Moroccan frontier with Spain. Blocked by this barrier, dozens of migrants who shared the route through Africa with her tried to cross another way: by sea. As a result of this decision 15 of them died.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

What happened in Ceuta less than two months ago, raising international outcry, encapsulates, on a small scale, what is happening on most immigration routes to Europe: Faced with increasingly militarised borders, immigrants take risks and go on more dangerous routes. When a valve is shut down, be it along the Senegal coast or at the wall between Morocco and Spain, a new path opens up.

An investigation carried out by ten journalists from six European countries has created the most comprehensive database on migrants dying while attempting to reach the continent.

Through the analysis of these data and their comparison with those of the agency for the surveillance of the external borders of the European Union, Frontex, the team identified how policies that aim at decreasing the arrivals of undocumented migrants, increase, in turn, the likelihood that these migrants die in their attempt to reach 'Fortress Europe'.

Frontex data for 2013 show that there have been more attempts by sea than by land. Sea routes counted for 60 percent of the total number of detections. According to data from this investigation, incidents at sea accounted for eight out of 10 victims.

The routes that cross the Mediterranean from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and Malta and the one from Turkey to Greece are the most dangerous, data about migrants deaths show. In 2013, these routes have also been, once again, the most travelled. As in the case of Desiree’s friends, migrants on their way to Europe increasingly turn to unsafe routes.

Route by route

Frontex collects detailed information on eight routes taken by undocumented migrants and smugglers. The agency counts the number of “detections” of migrants on each route, in collaboration with European member states. Frontex starts and coordinates so-called “joint operations” between member states, that focus on reducing the number of migrants on routes or on part of a route.

"Immigrants appear in the news just when they come to this side," says Amparo Gonzalez, researcher with the Spanish National Research Council. He analysed the habits of Senegalese immigrants on their way to Europe in the Mafe Project, an international collaboration.

In interviews conducted with migrants to several European countries the same pattern emerges: all try it more than once, a wall does not stop them.

The border between Turkey and Greece is a case in point. Over the last four years, one in three migrants who entered Europe crossed there, according to data from Frontex. In late 2010, it accounted for two thirds of the detections, excluding those at European airports. During that period, the route via land, which is less dangerous, was the most used.

For this reason, Frontex coordinated border guards from almost every member state in the Joint Operation Poseidon, which started in 2010. Less than a year later, in 2011, the Greek government began the construction of a 12-kilometre fence along its border with Turkey, near the town of Oresteia. It was completed in December 2012. In two years, identified undocumented migrants dropped from 55,000 to 32,000.

However, Frontex does not collect data on casualties. In 2010, one migrant died for every 200 who tried. In 2012, it was one in 30, according to the data analysed in this investigation.

Frontex itself, in its "risk analysis" reports for the third quarter of 2012, gave some hints about what was happening: a change of route from land to sea.

"The operations have caused a weak displacement effect," the report explains, from the land border between Turkey and Greece to the sea route and towards the border between Turkey and Bulgaria.

This slight movement quickly became a dramatic change. As detailed in the Frontex report for the first four months of 2013, there was a record number of attempted entries along the Aegean Sea front of Turkey during this period.

During summer, with its good weather conditions, the area officially became a new "hot spot" for migrant entry. Thus the "weak displacement" quickly grew. During the whole of 2013, 11,800 illegal crossings were detected, as many as in the three previous years combined.

New routes – for migrants and their 'facilitators'

This process didn’t just happen on the eastern Mediterranean route. According to Frontex data to which this investigation had exclusive access (it will be published later in April), 40,000 migrants crossed on the central Mediterranean route in 2013, a fourfold increase from 2012.

This route is, and has always been, the most dangerous. For every hundred migrants detected by Frontex, our data shows that more than four migrants die.

Data from the first two months of 2014 show a tenfold increase in migrants using the central Mediterranean route aiming for Italy. From 1 January to 28 February this year 4,776 people made the sea journey from Libya. For the same period last year, 449 migrants were registered.

Facilitators, another term for smugglers of migrants, are another reason for this increase.

Christer Zettergren, a former Red Cross secretary general, runs the intelligence unit at the Swedish Migration authority. His unit collects and analyses data on migrant flows, and reports to the government and EU partners. "There are clearly more facilitators seizing a business opportunity at the moment," he says.

"Clearly facilitators have noted the greater chance for migrant boats to be picked up in the Sicily Channel by Italian surveillance ships," he says. "This is of course how they 'sell' and pitch their offer, driving a larger demand for their 'product'. But greater demand also tempts facilitators to take higher risks selling trips even though the waves are bad."

Italy launched the operation Mare Nostrum in October last year as a result of the Lampedusa disaster. The horrific event also led the EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem to call for a search and rescue mission stretching from Spain to Cyprus to be coordinated by Frontex.

Christer Zettergren also expects more people to cross over from Turkish shores to the Greek archipelago. There is an unmet need in Turkey, he says, where many Syrians are waiting. According to interviews conducted by Frontex, Sweden is the main destination. Norway is also on the list.

The advantages of the Turkey-to-Greece route from a migrant’s perspective are the short distance to cross (about 20 kilometres to reach Lesbos from Turkey, compared to 300km to Lampedusa from Libya) and the low probability of getting your fingerprints registered upon entering Greece.

Several sources also mentioned that migrants from African countries now make the journey to Turkey by foot via Iran.

A standard setup is to fly from Nairobi to Tehran, then continue by land to the mostly Kurdish city of Van in eastern Turkey. During winter the conditions can be harsh with freezing temperature and heavy snowfall. The last stop on this route before the EU is usually Izmir, a port city by the Aegean Sea.

The Migrants' Files is a project by datajournalism agencies Journalism++ SAS, Journalism++ Stockholm andDataninja ; media outlets Neue Zürcher Zeitung, El Confidencial, Sydsvenskan and Radiobubble as well as freelance journalists Jean-Marc Manach and Jacopo Ottaviani. The project is partially financed by JournalismFund.eu.

Investigation

The Migrants' Files: surveying migrants' deaths at Europe's door

A pan-European consortium of journalists has launched a survey of migrant deaths along Europe’s borders. The numbers are staggering: since the beginning of 2000, over 23,000 people have lost their lives trying to reach Europe.

GDPR - a global 'gold standard'?

The new EU privacy rules are touted as a global 'gold standard' - but Mexico's former data commissioner warns some nations are far from ready.

New GDPR enforcer says complaints imminent

The European Data Protection Board is a new EU body tasked with enforcing the EU's privacy laws with powers to impose massive fines. Its head Andrea Jelinek told reporters complaints against companies are expected to be immediate.

Eight countries to miss EU data protection deadline

The EU starts enforcing its general data protection regulation on 25 May - but Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovenia won't be ready. The delay will cause legal uncertainty.

Opinion

The dangers of resurgent nationalism in Greece

Virulent nationalism in Greece has been stirred up in the context of austerity and renewed negotiations with Macedonia. Recent attempts by the government to address the inequalities suffered by LGBT persons have also been met with a reactionary backlash.

News in Brief

  1. Italy set to pick eurosceptic finance minister
  2. UK foreign minister fooled by Russian pranksters
  3. Rajoy ally gets 33 years in jail for corruption
  4. Close race as polls open in Irish abortion referendum
  5. Gazprom accepts EU conditions on gas supplies
  6. Facebook tells MEPs: non-users are not profiled
  7. Commission proposes ending France deficit procedure
  8. UK households hit with Brexit income loss

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman requests more lending transparency from European Investment Bank
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  3. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  4. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  5. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  6. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  8. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  12. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May
  2. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  5. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  6. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  8. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  9. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  10. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  11. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  12. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  3. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  4. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  7. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  8. European Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  9. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  10. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  11. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  12. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds